Stumptown Footy guides us through the process of learning a bit more about the Portland Timbers ahead of Saturday night's Cascadia Cup Match Day One against the Seattle Sounders. In light of the rivalry we forgot how to count to three, and we may even add more questions as the week continues.
Dave Clark: What is the disparity between home and road performance all about?
Stumptown Footy: I think too much weight has been put into the Timbers' road schedule thus far. If you look back to the beginning of the season the Timbers lost their first two home games. Honestly, that was to be expected as the team was still trying to successfully mix a slew of new players into the team. The coordination wasn't there. Since then the Timbers have only lost once on the road against the Los Angeles Galaxy, which, as you'll remember from last year and earlier this year (quite vividly) is an easy team to lose against given their depth of squad and veteran players. While it's true that that guys play phenomenally at home, it's not necessarily a fact that they're terrible on the road as there just hasn't been enough games yet to prove anything meaningful, especially not since John Spencer brought in Diego Chara and solidified his first team, which looks quite different in the midfield and defense than it did at the beginning of the season.
DC: From the outside it has been hard to track which keeper could be starting any given week, what are Perkins strengths vs Gleeson's?
STF: I can tell you right now Troy Perkins will be starting barring any injuries. He's the number one goalkeeper for the Timbers and will be such until he's no longer with the team.
Troy Perkins is a different kind of goalkeeper than most expect their goalkeepers to be. He isn't loud and rarely have I seen him yell at his back line. Many mistake this trait as being a bad leader at the back, but he seems to have a sort of calming quietness about him which affects both of the center backs in a positive way. It's still a bit too early to judge him outright, as I've only witnessed him in three regular season games thus far in the regular season, but I've been very impressed with both of our last three home games (two regular season, one USOC) where he was able to come up with some pretty amazing saves while shutting out Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union altogether. He also held San Jose for 120 minutes when the Portland Timbers were playing a secondary line up against Bobby Convey and Chris Wondolowski. He's a great keeper, no doubt about it.
As for Jake Gleeson. No doubt about it, he'll be the one to take over the first keeper position if/when Perkins gets injured or moves on. The kid played phenomenally and is still young enough that he's only going to get better. In fact, I see him going on to be New Zealand's first keeper for international appearances. He's going to be great.
DC: Who has been the best player to make a transition from D-2 to MLS?
Geoff: Kalif Alhassan. While it's true the Timbers acquired him late last season for almost express reason to bring him up to MLS, it's undeniable that Alhassan, at just 19 years old, is a fantastic midfielder who is constantly battling and struggling to get the ball into the final third. I've not been more impressed with a player this young in quite a while.
Our center back Futty Danso has also shined in the last few games, even scoring the winner against Philly.
DC: The players have never experienced the rivalry in games that matter [League play], can Paulson, Wilkinson and the fans show them how much it means?
STF: That's not true. Perhaps some of our newer MLS players, but Ryan Pore, as an example, knows just how important and meaningful this rivalry is and he's certainly played and felt it in the USOC matches from years past, which I'd certainly argue are games that matter.
That said, I'm not really sure the other guys need somebody to tell or show them how much this game matters. I mean you walk around Portland and you can almost feel it in the air. The tension, the anticipation. This is a huge game for both cities. It's going to be difficult for anybody involved with the team (whether it's a new player, or a new fan) to head into Saturday's game oblivious to how much this means to both sides.
* * *
STF: The loss of Steve Zakuani is obviously tough for the Sounders. Who will fill that position and will his usual creativeness be missing from Saturday's game?
DC: Seattle desperately misses Zakuani's mental presence and his speed. There are a few players who can do what he does technically, but none with his speed. Seattle has used Alvaro Fernandez in that left wing role, and it changes the dynamic of the team. They have used more traditional 4-4-2 and a diamond both were generally narrower than when Zakuani played as nearly a forward.
STF: Fredy Montero still has just two goals and two assists for the entirety of the season thus far. What would you say is the cause for his performance issues? Is he becoming a detriment to the team?
DC: Montero had a poor start, but was largely picked up by performances by Zakuani and O'Brian White. Fredy did not practice with his intended partner being White and he thrives off of a certain style of Big/Small pairing. So the shadow of Nkufo hung over the first few games.
He then missed three starts with a wrist fracture, and is now playing with brace, which has replaced the cast he has been wearing. This has slowed him down a little, while also creating both balance and pain issues. Still in the five games back he has a goal or assist in all but one, and it was his pass that led to the penalty against Toronto FC. He is one of the best 10 offensive players in the league, and none should think otherwise. He does things with the ball that are well beyond this level.
STF: Roger Levesque is hated by Timbers fans, but has also played really well against them in the past, why is this? Will he get a starting spot Saturday?
DC: There's an outside shot that Levesque starts, but it will probably be Nate Jaqua with Montero at the top. This would not mean that the TA get to miss their least favorite player, just that he will be either the first or second sub to see the pitch depending on time/score and game form. But if when he takes the pitch he will continue to do what he does, which is pest backlines with off-ball movement and defensive pressure. Both force errors through lineups that don't communicate well (an issue that the high churn USL teams had). It would be an almost Disney like storyline if he scores Saturday.
STF: What Portland Timbers player do you feel the Sounders should be most wary of?
DC: For me it is Kenny Cooper. He can be a bit floppy for a big man, and does so in a way that gets Portland the call. With the way Jewsbury provides service this can lead to goals and last year Seattle struggled on set-play defense. He is also quite a dangerous goal poacher similar to Nate Jaqua so laying off him can lead to harm as well. It will be a tough balance for Seattle guarding the former Dallas great.
Scouting Report and Match Day Quick Reference Card still to come.